May 23, 2005 | General


BioCycle May 2005, Vol. 46, No. 5, p. 4

“LIKE MANY PEOPLE all over the United States,” wrote Jack Chambers of Sonoma Valley Worm Farm in California in a BioCycle article three years ago, “I first learned about earthworms and vermicomposting from Mary Appelhof of Flowerfield Enterprises, who wrote the book, Worms Eat My Garbage, in 1982. I was intrigued. The thought that worms could eat half their weight every day was simply amazing.”
So were we all intrigued and amazed – none more so than Mary, who much to our sadness died last week after cancer surgery. There will be a memorial service in about a month’s time, e-mails Michele Young of the San Jose (CA) Environmental Services Department. “If you have a story to share about Mary, please plan to send it. What a wonderful way for friends and family to fully understand what a difference she made. I am sure that all of the thoughts from those she knew, and the many whose lives she touched without even knowing it, will make a lovely tribute. When we want to be reminded of Mary’s smile, we need only turn over our copies of Worms Eat My Garbage and there she is, reminding us to love and live with worms!” Send stories and photos to Flowerfield Enterprises, 10332 Shaver Road, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49024. Or on-line to: In addition, BioCycle will be collecting tributes to Mary Appelhof for an article honoring her creativity, persistence and accomplishments. Please send your stories and memories – as well as a brief description of your vermicomposting project (if applicable) – to
Mary had a special interest in communicating the wonders of worms to children when we first met her in her Kalamazoo kitchen more than 35 years ago. Two years ago, when she published a book called Compost by Gosh!, authored by Michelle Portman, here’s what Mary wrote: “I have wanted a good children’s book on vermicomposting for a long time, a book that tells the magical story of a bin full of redworms turning food waste into dark rich humus that makes plants grow ever so much better. I wanted a book that I could read aloud to children and capture their attention in the unique way that only worms can.”
Besides children, Mary took her responsibility seriously to the estimated one million people in North America “who have chosen to welcome redworms into their homes and have them chow down their discarded organic materials. These people have been asking for a way to describe their batch of worms. And I’m relieved to say that it’s a squirm.” So – a “squirm of worms” joined other terms such as a gaggle of geese, pod of whales and pride of lions.
Back to the kids, teacher-author Binet Payne credits Mary for much of the knowledge she gained to teach 6th, 7th and 8th grade students about mid-scale vermicomposting – the simple, effective and inexpensive method for processing paper and food wastes “that empowers students who feel they can, and do, make a difference to the positive economies of their town through active stewardship of the natural resources they use.” Mary published Binet Payne’s book, The Worm Cafe. Meanwhile, Mary’s original classic reference has served teachers and students with classroom experiments and lessons on worm anatomy, habitat, etc. throughout North America.
In the late 1970s, Mary Appelhof made her decision to self-publish her book on worms, and gave us some credit for that decision … so she could influence people’s thinking and get them to think differently about waste. As she explained her decision: “I self-publish because I can use all my creative abilities in a variety of ways. I do it because I can get direct feedback from the people whose lives are changed by the content and spirit of my books. I relish the opportunity to grow in the myriad ways that publishing demands. Small press publishing contributes not only to my own health, vitality, spirit and joy, but to the health, vitality, spirit and joy of my culture.”- J.G.

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